Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Building the Pentagon

 The Pentagon

     In the 1930s the War Department was scattered throughout dozens of buildings in Virginia, Maryland and the District.   In May 1941, the Secretary of War told the President that the Department needed a central location.  Congress authorized a new headquarters for the War Department and plans were drawn up.  Arlington Farms, between Arlington National Cemetery and Memorial Bridge was selected as the site.  The building was designed to conform to the dimensions and terrain of the site.  In short, it was designed to be a pentagon to fit the space.

     When presented with the plan, President Roosevelt liked the design but hated the site, which would have impaired the view of Washington from Arlington National Cemetery. Consequently the design remained, but a new site was found.  Ground was broken on September 11, 1941, less than two months prior to America’s entry into World War II.  The building was officially dedicated and ready for occupancy on January 15, 1943. Design and construction of such a building would normally have taken four years

     Minimizing the use of steel because of the exigencies of World War II, the Pentagon was built as a reinforced concrete structure, using 680,000 tons of sand, dredged from the Potomac River.  Army engineers avoided using critical war materials whenever possible. They substituted concrete ramps and stairways for passenger elevators and used concrete drainpipes rather than metal pipes. They eliminated bronze doors, copper ornaments, and metal toilet partitions, and avoided any unnecessary ornamentation.

     The Pentagon is the world's largest office building by floor area, housing some twenty six thousand military and civilian employees.  The building has five sides, five floors above ground, and five ring corridors per floor with a total of 17.5 miles of corridors.  It covers twenty six acres.

     Exactly sixty years after the groundbreaking ceremony, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks occurred.  Hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the west side of the Pentagon, killing almost two hundred people both on-board the plane and inside the building. The plane penetrated three of the Pentagon’s five rings.  The task of rebuilding the damaged section of the Pentagon was given the name, the "Phoenix Project", and set a goal of having the outermost offices in the damaged section occupied again by September 11, 2002. The first Pentagon tenants whose offices had been damaged during the attack began moving back in on August 15, 2002, nearly a month ahead of schedule.

Audio Book

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Top Holiday Songs of the Decade

 The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) reports that the following were the top ten holiday songs of the last decade:

1.     Winter Wonderland

2.     The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)

3.     Sleigh Ride

4.     Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

5.     Santa Claus is Coming to Town

6.     White Christmas

7.     Let it Snow!  Let it Snow!  Let it Snow!

8.     Jingle Bell Rock

9.     Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer

10.  Little Drummer Boy

Other fun facts:

     “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and “Winter Wonderland” are the oldest non-religious Holiday songs having both been published in 1934.

      “White Christmas” is the most recorded Holiday song, with over five hundred versions in multiple languages.

      “White Christmas” was introduced in the movie Holiday Inn (1942)

      “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” was introduced in the movie Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

       “Silver Bells” was introduced in the movie The Lemon Drop Kid (1950)

       “A Holly Jolly Christmas” was introduced in the TV special Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (1962)


Friday, November 20, 2020

A Short History of the Cigar


The native people of the American continent were the first to grow and smoke tobacco. Tobacco was first used by the Maya of Central America.  When the Maya civilization collapsed, scattered tribes carried tobacco into North and South America. Columbus brought awareness of tobacco to Europe.

In due course returning conquistadores introduced tobacco smoking to Spain and Portugal. The habit, a sign of wealth, then spread to France, through the French ambassador to Portugal, Jean Nicot (who eventually gave his name to nicotine).

The word tobacco, some say, was a corruption of Tobago, the name of a Caribbean island. Others claim it comes from the Tabasco province of Mexico. The word cigar originated from sikar, the Mayan word for smoking.

The habit of smoking cigars spread from Spain, where cigars using Cuban tobacco were made in Seville from 1717 onwards. By 1790 cigar manufacture had spread north of the Pyrenees with small factories being setup in France and Germany.  Cigar smoking did not become really popular in Britain until after the Peninsular War (1806-12) against Napoleon, when returning British veterans spread the habit they had learned while serving in Spain. Production of segars, as they were known, began in Britain in 1820.

Cigar smoking became such a widespread custom in Britain that smoking cars became a feature in trains, and the smoking room was introduced in clubs and hotels. The habit even influenced clothing--with the introduction of the smoking jacket.

How Sherlock Holmes Lived

Arizona’s Superstition Mountains are mysterious, forbidding, and dangerous.  The Superstitions are said to have claimed over five hundred lives.  What were these people looking for?  Is it possible that these mountains hide a vast treasure?  Is it possible that UFOs land here?  Is it possible that in these mountains there is a door leading to the great underground city of the Lizard Men?  Join us as we recount a fictional story of the Superstitions and then look at the real history of the legends that haunt these mountains in our new book:  Gold, Murder and Monsters in the Superstition Mountains.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Richmond Hospitals 1861-1865

Richmond became a major hospital center during the Civil War.  The Moore Hospital is seen below.  Running a hospital presented many challenges, none more challenging than obtaining supplies.  When the Civil War began, the Federal government cut off sales of medical supplies to the Confederacy. Unable to import enough medical supplies, the South began manufacturing medicines from its own native plants.


Chimborazo Hospital, Richmond, Va., April, 1865 (seen below) was the largest Confederate hospital.  With over five thousand beds in 150 buildings and tents, Chimborazo Hospital treated over 77,000 patients during the war.  The hospital relied on male slaves rented from local plantation owners to serve as nurses.

Women Doctors in the Civil War

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Richmond Offices of the Confederate Government 1861-1865

The Custom House, the first Federal building ever built in Richmond is seen below.  This building provided offices for Confederate President Jefferson Davis and other executive staff, including the Confederate Treasury Department. At the end of the Civil War, the Richmond evacuation fire of 1865 left much of Richmond in ruins.

The view from the south side of Canal Basin is seen below, showing the Capitol, the Custom House and other structures after the fire of April, 1865.

The Custom House is seen below. With its stout granite walls and inflammable roof, the building survived the fire. In 1866, the Grand Jury of the United States District Court met on the third floor and indicted Jefferson Davis for treason. Davis was granted amnesty and never stood trial.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

The Tredegar Iron Works, Richmond (1861-1865)


Once Virginia seceded, the Confederate government moved the capital from Montgomery, Alabama to Richmond, Virginia.  Richmond was the South’s second largest city with a population of 40,000 (this tripled in the war years). The move served to solidify the state of Virginia’s position in the Confederacy. Virginia’s hundreds of factories, whose output nearly equaled that of the rest of the Confederacy, were vital to the new nation.

Richmond 1861-1865

Richmond was the iron and coal center of the South.  The Tredegar Iron works  manufactured a diverse array of products, including cannon and ordnance for the Confederate government.  Tredegar produced more than 1,000 cannons for the Confederacy.  It also made armor plating for use on Confederate ironclad warships.

The Tredegar Iron Works

                Love, Sex, and Marriage in the Civil War

The 1865 Fall of Richmond in Pictures

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Woodrow Wilson’s “Beast”


At the Woodrow Wilson Museum, Staunton, Virginia

Woodrow Wilson returned from the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 to be greeted by cheering crowds and this gleaming new Pierce-Arrow limousine.

Leased by the U.S. Government, this car quickly became the President’s favorite. One of the finest luxury cars of the day, Pierce-Arrow sold cars to the Emperor of Japan, the Shah of Persia, the King of Greece and royalty throughout Europe and the Middle East.  The company was often referred to as “the American Rolls-Royce.”

When Wilson left office, five of his wealthy Princeton classmates bought the car and presented it as a gift to the ex-president.  Although the first president to join the American Automobile Association (AAA), Wilson never had a driver’s license.  His wife Edith, however, owned and drove her own electric car.

Edith Wilson and her electric car

Saturday, September 19, 2020

John Singleton Mosby After the War


As a child, John Singleton Mosby was small, sickly and was often the target of bullying. He would respond by fighting back. During the course of the Civil War Mosby was wounded seven times. For someone who had been a sickly youth, he proved quite resilient, dying at the age of 82 on May 30, 1916.

Northern Virginia was a region of small and scattered communities set amid gently rolling hills.  It was an ideal area for cavalry operations; and in the last three years of the war Mosby's horsemen so dominated activities in the area that it was often called "Mosby's Confederacy". 

Mosby never officially surrendered to Federal forces.  Mosby wrote of his exploits, “It is a classical maxim that it is sweet and becoming to die for one's country; but whoever has seen the horrors of a battlefield feels that it is far sweeter to live for it.”

Mosby disapproved of slavery but once said,  “I am not ashamed of having fought on the side of slavery – a soldier fights for his country – right or wrong – he is not responsible for the political merits of the course he fights in . . . The South was my country.”

After the war, the thirty one year old Mosby opened a law office in Warrenton, Virginia and lived in a large white house at 173 Main Street for nine years.  When he decided to support President Grant and the Republican Party, many called him a turncoat. One night someone shot at Mosby after he disembarked from a train at the depot.

Mosby went on to become a distinguished railway lawyer.  He also served as U.S. consul to Hong Kong and in several other Federal government posts.  Although Mosby’s war time exploits have been romanticized, he himself once said that there was, “no man in the Confederate Army who had less of the spirit of knight-errantry in him, or took a more practical view of war than I did.”


Love, Sex, and Marriage in the Civil War

 A brief look at love, sex, and marriage in the Civil War. The book covers courtship, marriage, birth control and pregnancy, divorce, slavery and the impact of the war on social customs.

Civil War Humor 1861-1865

 A brief but fascinating look at humor in the Civil War including: (1) Stories Around the Campfire, (2) Parody, (3) the Irish, (4) Humorous Incidents, (5) Civil War Humorists, and (6) Lincoln.

Sunday, September 06, 2020

The Strange Case of the Republic of Fredonia (Fredonia, Texas)


If you have ever heard of the nation of “Fredonia”, you probably associate it with a mythical European state portrayed in the Marx Brothers' classic film Duck Soup.


There was, however, an actual, all be it short lived, independent state of “Fredonia” carved out in East Texas and centered on the modern day city of Nacogdoches (population 33,500).


In the early 1800’s, the Republic of Mexico granted land and privileges to so called empresarios  who agreed to bring settlers into the sparsely inhabited areas of Texas.  The empresarios pledged loyalty to Mexico, but in reality were a long way from the population centers of Mexico and became quite independent.  Stephen Austin was the most famous of these empresarios, but there were others, including one Haden Edwards.


In September 1825, Haden Edwards acquired a grant from Mexico to settle eight hundred families in an area that included Nacogdoches. Edwards posted notices in Nacogdoches demanding that all current landowners show evidence of their claims or forfeit their land to him. Edwards’ high handed methods alienated the existing population.  Ill feelings festered until authorities in Mexico annulled the Edwards land grant in 1826 and ordered Edwards to leave Texas.


Lt. Col. Mateo Ahumada, set out from San Antonio with 110 infantrymen and twenty mounted troopers to enforce the expulsion order.   Edwards, in turn, vowed to recruit an army and win independence from Mexico.  Edwards named his new country the Republic of Fredonia, and hurriedly sought to finalize a treaty with the nearby Cherokee to strengthen his hand.  Edwards also petitioned Stephen Austin for aid.  Not only did Austin refuse to help the revolution, but he also sent one hundred militiamen to support the Mexican army.


Haden Edwards appointed his brother, Benjamin, to lead the new nation, while he went to the United States to raise support. Benjamin Edwards gathered a band of thirty loyal men and rode to Nacogdoches. The rebels seized control of the Old Stone Fort and ripped down the Mexican flag, re-placing it with the flag of Fredonia.


The new republic only survived a few weeks. When the Mexican army arrived on January 31, 1827, the revolutionaries fled across the border into the United States without firing a shot.

Sneak Attack! (Four Alternative History Stories)

Sun Tzu, the Master of War, once said, “Those who are skilled in producing surprises will win. In conflict, surprise will lead to victory. ” Here are four stories about the history of the world IF wars we know about happened differently or IF wars that never happened actually took place.

1.The Hostage, in which Abraham Lincoln is kidnapped by the rebels.
2.The German Invasion of America of 1889, in which Germany unexpectedly launches its might against the United States.
3.The Invasion of Canada 1933, in which the new American dictator launches a sneak attack on Canada.
4.Cherry Blossoms at Night: Japan Attacks the American Homeland (1942), in which Japan attacks the American homeland in a very surprising way.

Friday, September 04, 2020

John Singleton Mosby and the Sabre


                                                     John S. Mosby

Recollections of J.F. Breazeale published in Manassas Journal, September 25, 1914

“A few weeks ago I had the good fortune to spend one of the most pleasant days of my life out upon the battlefield (Manassas Battlefield) with the Colonel.  He had not seen the battlefield in fifty three yers and while his step was probably not quite as elastic as it was then, his memory was just as clear as it was when he rode upon the field July 21, 1861.  Here was a man who brought a new system into cavalry tactics.  He has the utmost contempt for the sabre.  “I never saw a man killed with a sabre cut during the war,” he said.  “I remember very well one day in 1861, we charged into a regiment of Yankee cavalry.  A great big cavalry man, weighing over two hundred pounds, rode straight at me.  I hardly weighed a hundred and twenty.  He rose is the saddle and struck overhand with all his might.  My right arm was up in this position,” said the Colonel (holding up his arm as if in the act of firing pistol).  I dodged my head to the left and the blow struck me squarely on the shoulder.  It made a black place there for a week or two but it did not hurt me any.  I was always glad of this encounter as it proved to me the absolute worthlessness of the sabre."

                                          Mosby's Grave, Warrenton, Virginia

                                                        Civil War Humor 1861-1865

A brief but fascinating look at humor in the Civil War including: (1) Stories Around the Campfire, (2) Parody, (3) the Irish, (4) Humorous Incidents, (5) Civil War Humorists, and (6) Lincoln.

Friday, August 21, 2020

George Custer Accidentally Shoots His Horse

In 1874, George Armstrong Custer published My Life on the Plains, an account of his career as an Indian fighter to that time.  One story that Custer relates about his hunting a buffalo tells us much about his military skills.

“Determined to end the chase and bring down my game, I again placed the muzzle of the revolver close to the body of the buffalo, when, as if diving my intention, and feeling his inability to escape by flight, he suddenly determined to fight and at once wheeled, as only a buffalo can, to gore my horse.  So sudden was this movement, and so sudden was the corresponding veering of my horse to avoid the attack, that to retain my control over him I hastily brought up my pistol hand to the assistance of the other.  Unfortunately as I did so my finger, in the excitement of the occasion, pressed the trigger, discharged the pistol, and sent the fatal ball into the very brain of the noble animal I rode…. (I) found myself whirling through the air over and beyond the head of my horse.”

Custer now faced the buffalo on foot, but the animal wandered off without further ado.

Custer continues, “In a moment the danger I had unluckily brought myself stood out in bold relief before me….Here I was, alone in the heart of the Indian country, with warlike Indians known to be in the vicinity.  I was not familiar with the country.  How far I had travelled, or in what direction from the column, I was at a loss to know.  In the excitement of the chase I had lost all reckoning.  Indians were liable to pounce upon me at any moment.  My command would not note my absence probably for hours.  Two of my dogs overtook me, and with mute glances first at the dead steed, then at me, seemed to inquire the cause of this strange condition of affairs.  Their instinct appeared to tell them that were in misfortune.”

After wandering aimlessly “about three or four miles,” Custer saw a column of dust that he knew had one of three causes, “...white men, Indians, or buffaloes.”  Fortunately for him, on this occasion, Custer had stumbled on his own cavalry.

Friday, August 07, 2020

Custer and the Inadequate Seventh Cavalry

Sioux representation of the Battle of the Little Bighorn

In his book, A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn - the Last Great Battle of the American West, James Donovan details some of the glaring inadequacies of the Seventh Cavalry as a fighting force at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.  Donovan states that the relative merits of Custer’s, Reno’s and Benteen’s military judgments cannot be properly understood without an understanding of these inadequacies. 

The frontier army was small, ill-trained and badly equipped by a miserly Congress. The quality of the troops was appalling, “only the malingerers, the bounty-jumpers, the draft-sneaks and the worthless remained” in the army after the Civil War.  “These, with the scum of the cities and frontier settlements, constituted more than half the rank and file on the plains.” (Donovan, 37)  Donovan continues, “Training in marksmanship, horsemanship, skirmishing, any practical lessons that Indian fighting might actually involve, was virtually nonexistent.  Formal military training of recruits consisted mostly of elementary drill aimed at making a grand appearance at dress parade.” (Donovan, 121)

On June 25, 1876, the actual day of battle, the five companies that Custer took with him to personally administer the coup de grace to the Sioux were inadequately led.  “Company C was led by Second Lieutenant Henry Harrington, who had no combat experience…. F Company was led by Second Lieutenant William Van Wyck Reily, who had been in the army less than eight months and had only recently mastered the fundamentals of horsemanship.” Donovan continues, “Of the thirty sergeants authorized to the five companies, fully half were absent, either with the pack train or on detached duty.” (Donovan, 218-219)

Custer over-estimated the offensive capabilities of the Seventh Cavalry.  When Custer finally viewed the village in its vastness, the view revealed the daunting size of the task required for victory, “…on the other side of the river were thousands of Indians, probably women, children, and older men, streaming into the hills and ravines….Custer had corralled only fifty-three of them on the Washita….” (Donovan, 267)

Since his death along the bluffs overlooking the Little Bighorn River, in Montana, on June 25, 1876, over five hundred books have been written about the life and career of George Armstrong Custer. Views of Custer have changed over succeeding generations. Custer has been portrayed as a callous egotist, a bungling egomaniac, a genocidal war criminal, and the puppet of faceless forces. For almost one hundred and fifty years, Custer has been a Rorschach test of American social and personal values. Whatever else George Armstrong Custer may or may not have been, even in the twenty-first century, he remains the great lightning rod of American history. This book presents portraits of Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn as they have appeared in print over successive decades and in the process demonstrates the evolution of American values and priorities.

Thursday, August 06, 2020

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the Battle of the Little Bighorn

Captain Thomas Weir

In his book, A Terrible Glory:Custer and the Little Bighorn - the Last Great Battle of the American West, James Donovan details what are clearly manifestations of Post -Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among the survivors of the Battle of the Little Bighorn.  The case of Captain Thomas Weir is illustrative.  Weir died less than six months after the battle, “rapidly destroying himself with alcohol (Weir) spent most of his days in a state of depression and nervous exhaustion.”  Donovan attributes Weir’s condition to “battle fatigue, the traumatic loss of so many close friends, the method of their destruction, (and) the slander of Custer’s good name….”(Donovan, 348)

Captain Thomas French appears to have suffered a similar fate.  In 1879 French was found guilty of three counts of drunkenness and one count of conduct unbecoming an officer.  He was suspended at half pay for a year.  In 1880, he was determined to be “mentally unfit and physically incapable to perform any military duties.”  He died two years later.  “Like Weir, his breakdown was likely brought on by ‘soldier’s heart,’ the era’s phrase for combat fatigue or shell shock.”(Donovan, 365) 

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

A Timeline of the Battle of the Little Bighorn

Custer's Last Battle

     William A. Graham published TheStory of the Little Big Horn: Custer's Last Fight, the first authoritative book on the battle of the Little Bighorn, in 1926.  Graham, a lawyer, was commissioned as a first lieutenant in 1912.  In 1919 Graham began a five year tour of duty with the office of the judge advocate in Washington, D.C.  It was during this period that he began to study the battle of the Little Bighorn.

      One of the interesting aspects of Graham’s book is that he effectively provides a timeline of the events of June 25, 1876.  (1) 12:07 PM, Custer divides his command, Benteen marches south; (2) 2:30 PM Reno crosses the river and commences offensive operations; (3) 3:00 PM Reno retreats to the timbers; (4) 4:00 PM Reno retreats to the bluffs; (5) 4:00 PM Benteen receives the “Come quick” order from Custer; (5) 4:30 PM Benteen joins Reno. Firing is heard downriver. Captain Weir marches to the sound of the guns; (5) 5:00 PM the last of the pack train joins Reno and Benteen; (6) 6:00 PM Reno and Benteen join Weir and are engaged by the Sioux; (7) 7:00 PM Reno and Benteen complete a fighting withdrawal and take up the command’s original defensive positions.

Sunday, August 02, 2020

A Survivor of the Battle of the Little Bighorn


When General Alfred Terry and his column arrived at the Little Bighorn on June 27, 1876, George Armstrong Custer and over two hundred men of the Seventh Cavalry were dead on the field.  All of the horses that survived had been taken by the Indians, except the mount of Captain Myles Keogh, a medium sized brown horse named Comanche.

Comanche had been with the Seventh Cavalry since its organization in 1866.  Sergeant Milton J. DeLacey found the horse in a ravine where it had gone to die.  Comanche’s wounds were serious but not fatal if properly attended.  The horse had seven bullet wounds.  Four wounds back of the foureshoulder, one in the hoof, and one in each hind leg.

Comanche was transported to Fort Lincoln, North Dakota, where he was nursed back to health. . In April 1878, Colonel Samuel D. Sturgis issued the following order:
Headquarters Seventh United States Cavalry, Fort A. Lincoln, D. T., April 10th, 1878. General Orders No. 7.
(1.) The horse known as 'Comanche,' being the only living representative of the bloody tragedy of the Little Big Horn, June 25th, 1876, his kind treatment and comfort shall be a matter of special pride and solicitude on the part of every member of the Seventh Cavalry to the end that his life be preserved to the utmost limit. Wounded and scarred as he is, his very existence speaks in terms more eloquent than words, of the desperate struggle against overwhelming numbers of the hopeless conflict and the heroic manner in which all went down on that fatal day.
(2.) The commanding officer of Company I will see that a special and comfortable stable is fitted up for him, and he will not be ridden by any person whatsoever, under any circumstances, nor will he be put to any kind of work.
(3.) Hereafter, upon all occasions of ceremony of mounted regimental formation, 'Comanche,' saddled, bridled, and draped in mourning, and led by a mounted trooper of Company I, will be paraded with the regiment.

When Comanche died in 1890, a taxidermist from the University of Kansas Natural History Museum prepared the horse for permanent exhibit. Other than being exhibited at the 1893 Columbian Exposition, Comanche has been on permanent exhibit, in a glass case, at the University of Kansas Natural History Museum, wearing his cavalry blanket and saddle.